Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

Legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus.

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Posted By Cliff Tuttle | February 27, 2010


The following observations on the Courts appeared in Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1742. Remember that the Almanac was written in the persona of a fictional character, Richard Saunders, an astrologer/philosopher, who explained the existence of the Almanac in the Preface to the first, in 1733, thus:

“The plain Truth of the Matter is, I am excessive poor, and my Wife, good woman, is, I tell her, excessive proud; she cannot bear, she says, to sit spinning in her Shift of Tow, while I do nothing but gaze at the Stars; and has threatened more than once to burn all my Books and Rattling-Traps (as she calls my Instruments) if I do not make some profitable Use of them for the Good of my Family. The Printer has offer’d me some considerable share of the Profits, and I have thus begun to comply with my Dame’s desire.”

Bear in mind, the views expressed below are those of Richard Saunders, not necessarily Benjamin Franklin. Courts were rather unpopular among farmers, who were the Almanac’s target readers and it is not surprising that cutting criticism of courts and lawyers became a regular feature in Poor Richard’s Almanac. However, they are not necessarily not his views, either. Dr. Franklin was known to be coy that way.


“Honest Men often go to Law for their Right; when Wise Men would sit down with the Wrong, supposing the first Loss least. In some Countries, the Course of the Courts is so tedious, and the Expence so high, that the Remedy, Justiceis worse than Injustice, the Disease. In my Travels I once saw a Sign call’d The Two Men at Law. One of them was painted on one Side, in a melancholy posture, all in Rags, with this Scroll, I have lost my Cause. The other was drawn capering for Joy, on the other Side, with these Words, I have gained my Suit; but he was stark naked.”

Or consider this doggerel appearing in 1744:

“Two Travlin’ Beggars (I’ve forgot their name)
An Oister found to which they both laid Claim.
Warm the Dispute! At length to Law they’d go,
As richer Fools for Trifles often do.
The Cause two Petty-foggers undertake,
Resolving right or wrong some Gain to make,
They jangle till the Courts this Judgment gave,
Determining what everyone should have.
Blind Plaintiff, lame Defendant, share
The Friendly Law’s impartial Care;
A Shell for him, a Shell for thee;
The MIDDLE’s Bench and Lawyer’s Fee.

Some cynics may say not much has changed since the days of Poor Richard.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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